Where are We on Early Learning?

I just returned from the National Forum of the Education Commission of the States. The Commission was created in the 1960s by the National Governors Association to exchange ideas, set policy and do research on public education issues.

One of the hot button topics this year continues to be early childhood education. The one topic not in dispute is the value of early childhood education in helping children succeed in school. The research clearly shows that children who attend pre-school and kindergarten have higher achievement rate by the end of the third grade. Almost all states are working to create universal public pre-schools in their states. The most aggressive, believe it or not, is Mississippi. This state requires all public and private pre-schools to meet the state pre-school standards.

In Hawaii a dispute arose concerning who should provide preschool education. A disputed developed between the Department of Education and the Executive Office on Early Learning. Superintendent Kishimoto insisted that pre-school belonged to the Department of Education and Lauren Moriguchi, the Executive Director of the Executive Office arguing that pre-school belonged to the Office on Early Learning. The EOEL prevailed, I think in part because previous superintendents were no interested in running preschool programs and in part because of a lack of trust in the Department’s ability to pull off such an ambitious program.

The Executive Office on Early Learning developed a five-year master plan called “Our Keiki, Our Future Hawai’i Early Childhood State Plan, 2019-2024” was developed by the Office after several meetings with community meetings, focus groups, interviews and feedback received on the draft report. The plan pulls together the patchwork pattern of private, private and public and public preschool classrooms. For the 2019-20 school year, an additional 10 new preschool classrooms will be added to the 26 public pre-schools already in existence. An ultimate goal of 300 public pre-school classrooms. To make room for the new pre-school classroom, more sixth grade classes are being moved to “middle schools.” Unfortunately, a six, seven and eight grade school is not a middle school. A middle school has a specialized curriculum and structure. Loretta Lum and I were the first middle school designers in the late 60s and early 70s. I worked with Margaret Oda when she wanted to start middle schools in Honolulu District. I hope these sixth graders don’t get lost in these “middle schools.”

There are several questions to be answered. Where are all the pre-schools teachers coming from? Will it exacerbate an already shortage of teachers? Do the pre-school teachers have to be licensed? What is their pay? Nationally pre-school teachers earned an average of $1.00 an hour. Because they will not be in the DOE and not on the teacher salary schedule, they will not have collective bargaining rights. Do they have to go through a criminal records check? Will they of the ERS and EUTF? Will pre-school teachers be integrated into the faculty of the school where they are housed? Who will evaluate them? And does the Executive Office on Early Learning supervise the person who supervises the pre-school teachers. And who is answering these questions.

So, hold on to your hats, as the State implements its Early Childhood Education Master Plan. For the sake of the kids, let’s hope it all works out.

By Joan Lee Husted, HEA Board Member

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